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Road trip: Up the Mississippi, across the UP and Canada, through the Adirondacks, and back to Chicago
June 23, 2008 8:47 PM   Subscribe

YARQ: Yet Another Roadtrip Question. My wife and I are taking a circle tour kinda-sorta of the Great Lakes, going west from Chicago, up the Mississippi, through the UP, east to Montreal, south through Vermont and Adirondacks, and down to Pittsburgh before heading home. Basic question here: what should we do?

More specifically the route is: Chicago → Iowa City → Trempealeau, WI → Mississipi River → Minneapolis → Apostle Islands/Lake Superior → Upper Peninsula → Mackinac Island → Sault Ste Marie → Sudbury, Ontario → Montreal → Quebec City → Lake Champlain, Vermont → Adirondack Mountains → Niagara Falls → Pittsburgh → Ypsilanti, Michigan → Chicago

And here is the vaguely USA-shaped route we're probably-maybe taking, via GoogleMaps.

The goal here is to see as much small-town stuff as big-town stuff, if not more. We've got ourselves the Road Trip USA book, which has been very helpful. But there are a lot of empty gaps still.

If you've been on these routes, what should we make a point of stopping to see? Most important to us are the restaurants. I'd be happy to base the entire route on hitting three good spots a day. Then come mini-golf courses, offbeat museums, beautiful parkland, and worthwhile hotels. There are too many choices out there; help us narrow it down?
posted by sandor to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Reserve lodging.
posted by Max Power at 8:55 PM on June 23, 2008


In Trempealeau, stop at the Trempealeau Hotel for their specialty, the walnut burger. They're delicious!
posted by Bromius at 9:34 PM on June 23, 2008


My main piece of advice is to resist rushing the whole thing just to get in more places in a limited amount of time. It's great to see all these places if you're actually seeing them, not just zipping into town at suppertime and leaving the next morning.

Another thought: Sudbury to Montreal is going to be a rough drive. Not very exciting, and at the very least 8 hours long. That being said, there are lots of previously-asked questions about Montreal, so you should have no trouble finding recommendations if you search on that tag.
posted by loiseau at 9:43 PM on June 23, 2008


Seconding the Trempealeau Hotel for dinner.

Roughly in order of your route: Be aware that Cedar Rapids was hit very hard by the floods; check in advance which roads are open. Stop at LaCrosse,WI. and look out over the bluffs. In Montreal, have your expensive meal at Au Pied de Cochon. If you're going to Pittsburgh, go to Fallingwater.
posted by escabeche at 10:10 PM on June 23, 2008


Sudbury to Montreal is going to be a rough drive. Not very exciting, and at the very least 8 hours long.

Yeah, if you can spare some time, stay in Ottawa for a night or two. Check out the Houses of Parliament and the National Gallery.
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:16 PM on June 23, 2008


While in the UP, be sure to try a pasty, a delicious Cornish fried pie with potatoes, onions, and beef. The smaller the town where you find the bakery, the better; see here for more.
posted by electric_counterpoint at 1:17 AM on June 24, 2008


(Great idea for a road trip, by the way!)
posted by electric_counterpoint at 1:20 AM on June 24, 2008


I might have some ideas, but first I need to know what time of year you're going.
posted by saffry at 4:27 AM on June 24, 2008


I agree - that Sudbury to Montreal stretch will be brutal. I would actually try and swing down towards Huntsville and stay a night in either the Muskoka or Haliburton region and then cut across Highway 60 through Algonquin Park to Ottawa. Ottawa's worth at least a lunch, Montreal a full day at least. If you're worried about time, go straight from Ottawa through Montreal to Quebec, stay in Quebec and come back along the same highway to Montreal, stay a night there and then go down to Burlington.

You've picked the right route TO Quebec City - the A40 is a much nicer drive than A20. See Gilles Villeneuve related stuff in Berthierville if you're interested in one of the great Ferrari F1 racers (not likely to apply to many Americans, but you never know). Also get off the highway once you get past Trois Rivieres and follow what's called "Le Chemin du Roy" (i.e., the King's Road) which is much closer to the St Lawrence. Amazing vistas around every corner.

Echo caveat about when you want to do this trip (I'm assuming summer) and how much time you want to spend in each place.
posted by mikel at 5:04 AM on June 24, 2008


For food: Primanti Bros, in the Strip District of Pittsburgh. Also, the "O," in Oakland.

For places, there's The Warhol Museum and the Mattress Factory. Also, you should ride the Duquesne Incline.

You should know that Fallingwater is about 90 minutes southeast of Pittsburgh - it would add significantly to the trip. Also, they advise that you book your tour at least 2 weeks ahead of time during the summer.

Of course, everything I've said is covered in previous Pittsburgh threads - check them out, they're generally pretty good.
posted by god hates math at 5:39 AM on June 24, 2008


If you stop in/near Erie PA, take a drive around Presque Isle. It's an interesting habitat, with beaches all along, and a bird sanctuary out toward the end. They're tourist-izing the waterfront, so you might find other stuff to do there too.

You're in PA wine country up there. The little town of North East has a bunch of wineries (and their Grape Festival WineFest is Sept 26-28). Actually, you'll pass through the Finger Lakes region of NY, where you'll find (in my opinion) a lot of much better wines. If you're into that kind of thing.

And yes, check out the other threads discussing Pittsburgh's must-do's and must-sees. (Having said that, The Strip District on a Saturday morning would make the trip into town worth it. It's got several great foody places.) The Warhol Museum's pretty highbrow-offbeat.

Want to stop in Clevelend to see the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame (and Museum)?
posted by booth at 7:12 AM on June 24, 2008


UP: If you hit Munising, don't miss Pictured Rocks. 12-mile beach in the middle of the park is neat, but for picturesque scenery Miner's Castle (despite the recent partial collapse, still worth seeing!) is more typical of the sandstone cliffs that make the national shoreline there worth the visit. It's also pretty easy to get to, unlike much of the trail - most of which requires a back country hiking permit, but all of it is worth seeing. it isn't easy to get there, but Au Sable Point lighthouse at the eastern end of the park has a spectacular view - I have climbed the light tower several times while on backpacking trips; the view from the top is 150 feet above the lake. Any of the lighthouses along Lake Superior are worth a visit!

If you really want a pasty, I agree - the smaller the town, the better. My favorite stop for this is a wee little bakery in Paradise. Benefit of passing through Paradise is that you can get a pasty, see Tahquamenon Falls, and stop at the Whitefish Point lighthouse museum. The Edmund Fitzgerald sank just off Whitefish Point. But then again I'm biased, my grandfather has had a beach lot in Paradise since the mid-60s, and I have spent many summers visiting the area.

If you're up for a detour a bit further south, the Mackinac Bridge is really worth seeing. Some of my Yooper relatives helped build the thing. That, and Clyde's in St Ignace has one of the biggest damn burgers around - a Big C will drip bits of filling all down your front, but it will leave you smiling and really full. Made the old fashioned way, handfuls of loose meat slapped into a burger shape and grilled on a flat griddle while you watch. Throw in a boat of gravy fries for the ultimate in artery-clogging goodness.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:54 AM on June 24, 2008


For offbeat museums, try the Iron Museum in Negaunee (or is it Ishpeming? I can never remember). For over-the-top tourist trap, there's always Da Yoopers Tourist Trap.

Definitely do Pictured Rocks in Munising. There's a number of hiking trails along the top of the cliffs, but they're best seen from the water -- we've found that they're really terrific on sunny afternoons, as the sun picks up all the colors.

Do take a side trip to Whitefish Point and the Shipwreck Museum. It's probably one of the best small museums I've ever been to. If you've got time, go to the cranberry bog west of the Point.

There's very little small-townish about Mackinac Island in the summer -- it's very 2000's touristy, but there's a lot of neat stuff to be seen if you wander out of town (applicable to both the island and Mackinaw City). There's a multi park ticket that includes Fort Mackinac (on the island), Fort Michilimackinac (in Mackinaw City), and the lumber mill/logging area south of the City.

The Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY may be a good place to stop.

Take a side trip to The Henry Ford before you head west on I94 from Ypsi-- there's some interesting stuff in the museum, and the Village is always fun. The summer museum exhibit is Chocolate. :) For food in Ypsi/Arbor, Haab's is good old-fashioned standard American food, Metzger's (run by family and using recipes from The Old German) for good German/American, Zingerman's Roadhouse for contemporary American, and the West End Grille in AA for 'foody but not ridiculously so' American.
posted by jlkr at 12:55 PM on June 24, 2008


Thanks for all the great recommendations. Forgot to give our timeframe. We're leaving next week around the 3rd and plan to return 18 days later.

> In Trempealeau, stop at the Trempealeau Hotel for their specialty, the walnut burger.

Done. We've got a hotel room reserved there.

> Stop at LaCrosse,WI. and look out over the bluffs.

Done. Looks like they're having a rockin' small-town 4th of July fest when we're there, so we'll likely stay in town for that.

> And yes, check out the other threads discussing Pittsburgh's must-do's and must-sees. (Having said that, The Strip District on a Saturday morning would make the trip into town worth it

Pittburgh is mainly to see a friend, so we'll probably leave it up to him to lead us to interesting places. Any chance we get to not plan, I'll take it. That having been said, Strip District sounds great.

> Want to stop in Clevelend to see the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame (and Museum)?

Probably not. Cost-to-value ratio way too high for this trip.

> UP: If you hit Munising, don't miss Pictured Rocks

Yep, it's on our list. I used Munising just for easy Google mapping.

> Do take a side trip to Whitefish Point and the Shipwreck Museum. It's probably one of the best small museums I've ever been to. If you've got time, go to the cranberry bog west of the Point.

Both of these sound awesome. I think we'll skip Mackinac for more of the smallish UP stuff like this.

> The Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY may be a good place to stop.

Love it. Done. That part of the trip was dead anyway.
posted by sandor at 3:52 PM on June 24, 2008


Madeline Island (at the Apostles/across the bay from Bayfield, WI) is worth the ferry trip across, and I'd stay there instead of in Bayfield--the culture there is well worth it. (If you can--lots of cool little beds/breakfasts, but they fill up fast. If you decide to check them out and they're full, ask if anyone has a sailboat you can stay on in the marina. We did that once on Fourth of July weekend because one of the B&B owners felt sorry for us. Way cool.) Also, camping at the park is pretty nice, though bugs may be an issue at the moment.

Their website is absolutely horrible and kinda frightening (and out of date), but you should definitely have a drink at Tom's Burned Down Café, which is a thoroughly unique institution. I've eaten at the Beach Club, which was decent.
posted by RedEmma at 4:31 PM on June 24, 2008


Also, if you meet a guy called French Larry, tell him his next door neighbor from Emerson says hello! I presume he's over his lyme's disease by now. :)
posted by RedEmma at 4:34 PM on June 24, 2008


Since your trip is all about the Great lakes, you should go to the ECHO center in Burlington, VT. It's a nifty little science museum right on the lake, covering the lake's geology, habitat and society. Plus, you can pick up Champ souveniers.

There is a cute little diner in Port Henry. Although I would suggest an alternative route that skips Port Henry. Have you looked at taking one of the ferries from Burlington into New York? Then you could come down through the High Peaks of the Adirondacks and stop in Lake Placid. There's usually activities at the Olympic center even in the summer, like Ski-jumping or ice shows. Or you can go to the new Wild Center in Tupper Lake.

Either route through ADK will bring you to Blue Mountain, and that's where the Adirondack Museum is.

You can also pick up some wine when you head through the Finger Lakes. I may do that myself in two weeks when I go to a wedding there.
posted by saffry at 5:38 PM on June 24, 2008


RedEmma: Thanks for the tips about Madeline Island. We'll try to make it there instead of Bayfield. Depends on timing and all that.

saffry: Wow, I had no idea about those ferries. Definitely making that part of our plan.
posted by sandor at 8:25 PM on June 24, 2008


I forgot a stop (hangs head in shame -- how could I?). Tahquamenon Falls is on the route from Munising to Whitefish Point. Do stop there. Even in the middle of the dry season, it's impressive.
posted by jlkr at 8:29 PM on June 24, 2008


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